Presentation and dysphoria

I love make-up… I like eyeliner and mascara and lipstick and nail polish. These items are all familiar tools of the trade that I used to perform the high femme persona I carried for years. I love how a little powder smeared across your skin can make you feel powerful or beautiful. Make-up can also be a way to hide, a mask to wear that tells the world “never mind me, I’m normal just like you.”

I suffer from an anxiety disorder called dermatillomania which means I constantly scratch and pick at my skin. It is a completely unconscious habit directly related to how stressed I am. When I’m under massive stress I gouge at my skin leaving some rather significant damage. Make up covers the damage, it hides my anxiety from view, it allows me to pretend everything is fine.

Everything is fine…

Yesterday I was having a rather masc day and for some reason I decided that I wanted to wear some eyeliner. (I refuse to call it guyliner because fuck off with gendering make up, make up is for everyone. Is masculinity so fragile that there needs to be some sort of “for men” make-up that will avoid emasculating guys who want to define their eyes?) So I used a soft brown to line my eyes and when I looked up all I could see looking back at me was a face that would be read as woman.


Eyeliner... not so successful

No… no, no, no this is not what I wanted… this face of mine that refuses to look anything but female. Is it just me who sees every curve and angle as an insult? How can I bear this face looking back in the mirror that is so far from how I see myself? I feel betrayed by the arch of my cheekbone and the curve of my lip that screams to the world “SHE! SHE! SHE!”

So I sat there close to tears and angry at feeling like I could no longer play with make-up if I didn’t want to be totally gendered as female.

I’m not one for bouts of self pity either.

I pulled out my entire treasure trove of make up and got to work fixing the bits that didn’t work, smoothing out imperfections and highlighting the things I do like. Revelling in having my face as a canvas, and using make-up to create a mask that was closer to life than my own skin.

This was the result:


Eli as a drag-king

Looking in the mirror made me want to whoop with delight. It was a moment of total gender euphoria and an utter thrill of knowing that at some point I will be able to more comfortably inhabit a space that looks like this. I felt handsome… I felt very attractive, and for someone who has never in their life felt anything but plain and forgettable that was far more empowering than the trappings of an ill-fitting femme presentation.

So now I’ll wait, impatiently, for T to do its thing and wait for the day where I look into the mirror and recognise myself again.

“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag” – RuPaul